When I was a little girl, we had all kinds of animals. Like most farms, we had cats and dogs, cows and pigs, and chickens that we took care of every single day, just like they were part of the family. We had some animals that took care of themselves on our farm, like fox and deer and pheasants. And some animals were unwelcome, like rats and mice and skunks and snakes. I thought even the ones we really didn’t want around were cute, especially when they were babies. All except rats: rats were just way too sneaky for me; always creeping along the edge of the wall, slow and deliberate, like we invited them in and they planned to stay.
I was a tinsy bit afraid a rat was going to come in my room to live, ’cause I was horrible about keeping it clean, and Mom said that’s what was gonna happen, and already some of the doors had the bottom corner gnawed off from before we moved in and nobody lived in the house. Mom said that was from squirrels, but I never saw a squirrel anywhere around our house, so that might have been a little fib. Anyways, I never let my fingers or toes hand out from under the covers, just in case.
Most wild animals stayed outside where the belonged, or only wandered in by mistake and would do anything to get back outside again. I could understand that, because I would much rather be outside any day. One night after everyone was asleep, a skunk got into the cellar. That skunk was so unhappy, he let the whole house know. We were up the rest of the night taking baths and washing hair and airing out the place. That skunk just high-tailed it right out of their as soon as he figured out what a door was all about. I think he was digging a nice warm burrow for the winter, and found himself in someone else’s home. I know that would scare the begeezers out of me. That’s a whole lot different from going in on purpose, like Goldilocks. Rats were more like Goldilocks, sneaking around where they don’t belong.
A family of fox had a den on the sand hill behind the potato patch; sometimes people said they could see those fox laying out, sunning themselves in the sun, , all relaxed and happy as vacationers on a beach. I never saw the fox, but I did see the den. Every time I trekked out there: nobody home; or maybe somebody home, but hiding. Sometimes that’s what me and Deanna did, if we were babysitting and somebody came to the door; we just stayed super-quiet and pretended nobody was home.
Dad put a block of salt out for the deer, just like he did for the cows, and he watched them all winter long. Just like the fox, I never saw the deer, but Dad told me how they just looked at him with their big brown eyes all damp and trusting, sticking their noses out at him to say hello, ’cause he did such a nice thing, putting salt out for them. Dad had a gun he kept way back behind the barn-coats on the back porch. I only knew it was there, ’cause once he took it out and showed it to Uncle Chuck; he never used it as far as I could tell. Once, Dad let some men go hunting, and I had to stay in the house all day. After that, he posted No Hunting signs everywhere. He said it was no use letting people hunt, when he was hoping to high heavens they wouldn’t shoot anything. Beside that, after he saw a fawn wobbling out on new legs and the Mama deer looking up from the salt lick all proud of her new baby, he said they seemed more like part of his farm, then something somebody should shoot. Dad would do whatever it took to get rid of a rat. He said for every rat I could see, there were ten more, I didn’t see. Oh, that made me shiver just thinking about it.
The pheasants were another thing entirely, I saw plenty of pheasants when I was out roaming around the fields, getting in the cows at milking time, or just playing Cowboys and Indians. Pheasants were a little bit like chickens, they couldn’t fly very well, and they were pretty good to eat. I like chicken to eat, ’cause it was easy to chew; not like our beef, where my jaws got tired just trying to chew it up, then I had almost no energy left for talking. Pheasants hid in the tall grass, unless I was about to step on one, then “whooosh…” the pheasants flew right up, beating their wings so frantic, the feathers almost touching my face, it seemed like I could hear their hearts beating like mine did when I went to see Pit and the Pendulum with my friend Annette, and I had nightmares about rats slinking around in the cellar and skeletons falling out of the walls for weeks, and I had to pray to my guardian angel every night that I wouldn’t have bad dreams anymore.
I suppose I still feel the same way about most animals and maybe people too. They are cutest when they’re babies; I like most all kinds, as long as they stay in their own business and don’t mean me any harm; and I can cut them a little slack if they are scared and out of their element. That said, I still don’t like rats.